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Manpower exports to Middle Eastern countries drop by 48%

  • Published at 11:15 am October 3rd, 2018
female migrant workers Saudi Arabia tRajib Dhar
More than 1,500 female migrant workers, most of whom were employed as domestic help , have returned from Saudi Arabia this year alone Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

In the first eight months of 2018, around 300,000 Bangladeshis went to the Middle East

Exports of manpower from Bangladesh to Middle Eastern countries have dropped significantly for a multitude reasons, including: a lack of expected employment opportunities, unavailability of promised salaries, and insufficient government initiatives.

In the first eight months of 2018, around 300,000 Bangladeshis went to the Middle East, which showed a decline of about 48% in the same time-frame last year. During the same period in 2017, the number of people sent to Middle Eastern countries was at 596,000.

The eight countries to recruit manpower from Bangladesh are: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Lebanon, and Bahrain.

Statistics compiled by the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) show that the decline of manpower exports affected all Middle Eastern countries, with the highest decline of manpower exports at 56% to Saudi Arabia.

A total of 172,379 people went to Saudi Arabia this year—compared to 392,602 in 2017. Meanwhile in Oman, the exported manpower was 47,658 in 2018—compared to 64,206 people a year ago. 

The numbers were 50,952 in 2018 compared to 63,048 a year ago in Qatar; 24,516 from 35,452 in Kuwait; 790 from 17,463 in Bahrain; 5523 from 14,211 in Jordan; 4615 from 6071 in Lebanon; and 2016 from 2962 in the UAE.

What’s causing the drop?

Investigations launched by the Dhaka Tribune have found that a number of factors are responsible for the significant drop in manpower exports—most notably the higher cost of migration, a lack of expected jobs and salaries, and violence against female workers. 

 The lack of a proper government initiative to address these issues is also a major reason for the drop.

Commenting on the matter, Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) Chairperson, also a Political Science Professor at Dhaka University, Tasneem Siddiqui said: “Many people went to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait last year after their government opened the labour market there.

“However, this trend did not continue this year. Many female workers became victims of physical and sexual abuse in Middle Eastern countries, so the government is not sending women in fear of complications. Many women are also no longer interested in going there.”

Tasneem also pointed out that the rising migration costs are discouraging people to seek employment in Middle Eastern countries.

Dried-up opportunities

The Saudi government had recently announced preferential treatment for Saudi citizens in all employment sectors, including in many high-paid jobs. This move has shrunk opportunities available for Bangladeshi workers.

In January last year, M Tuhin, 25, of Munshiganj, went to Saudi Arabia for a job in a construction company, but returned in July this year.  

Tuhin told the Dhaka Tribune: “I spent about Tk6 lakh to go to Saudi Arabia, with an expectation of earning Tk70,000 to Tk80,000 each month, but the salary I received there was only Tk25,000. Presently, there is no work at the company I worked for, which means no salaries either. So I had to return home.

“I even failed to get a job in Saudi Arabia which cover at least my food and lodging expenses.”

Tuhin plans to go back to Middle East once there is work available at the company he used to work for. But the interest he has to pay for loaning money is growing monthly.

Sarwar Hossain, 24, from same village, was planning to go to Saudi Arabia for employment, but is presently unwilling to go forward with his plan, because of the situation Tuhin is facing.

“Even after spending so much money borrowed in loans, if I become unemployed in Middle East, it will further complicate my financial situation. So, I have decided to do something in Bangladesh, with the funds I had saved for going to Saudi Arabia,” Sarwar added.

Rising migration costs

The “Skills for the International Labour Market: Bangladesh Country Report,” published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has pointed out that the higher migration costs are discouraging people from visiting Middle Eastern countries.

A Bangladeshi needs to spend around Tk7.50 lakh to go to Saudi Arabia, while the cost is: Tk6 lakh for Lebanon, Tk3.50 lakh for Qatar, Tk3.20 lakh for Libya, and Tk2.50 lakh for Oman. 

However, the amount is sometimes about ten times higher when compared to neighboring countries.

Addressing the issue, Expatriates' Welfare & Overseas Employment Ministry Additional Secretary (Monitoring and Enforcement) Md Nazibul Islam said: “The ministry does have different training mechanisms, but many people are going abroad without any training.

“Being influenced by brokers, they are spending more money—expecting higher salaries. Lack of skills, misinformation from brokers, and the role of receiving countries to create brokers are also part of the core reasons behind unavailability of expected salaries.”

Regarding the abuse of female workers, he said the government has become more aware after it received information about abuse to female workers from different countries.

“We are not sending any female workers to any countries without verbal exams,” he added.